Whether it’s by choice, or because of the coronavirus outbreak, full-time or just once or twice a month, because you’re freelance or self-employed, whatever the reason: home working is on the increase.

Abigail Townsend – who herself regularly works from home as a freelance business journalist – looks at some of the best ways to make working from home work for you.

For those of us who work from home regularly, #remoteworking suddenly trending on Twitter has been a bit of a surprise. Because while coronavirus might have shone a light on working from home, it is nothing new. I thought it would be helpful to share my own WFH tips as well as a few I picked up from Twitter.

According to research by the Trades Union Congress last year, there were around 1.72m homeworkers by the end of 2018. That’s a near 30% jump over the decade, with many more flexi workers – who split their time between home and office – on top of that figure.

At its best, homeworking can be flexible and cut costs. By doing away with commuting, for example, or after-school childcare, it enables us to spend more time with family, and improve the work-life balance. But there are pitfalls which need to be avoided if you, and your employer, are to get the most out of homeworking.

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Establish a dedicated workspace

If you can, allot an area as your official workspace and use it for that purpose alone; no sharing it with the kids’ homework or your partner’s hobbies. Try not to use your bedroom: that is for relaxing and sleeping, not pouring over end-of-year figures. Use a spare room, kitchen table or even the hall landing: anywhere you can work undisturbed and undistracted. Even if you have to pack it up each evening, few things help focus the working mind better than a dedicated workspace.

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Set regular working hours – and stick to them

Unless your employer stipulates certain hours, your day doesn’t have to be 9am to 5pm; such is the flexibility of homeworking. But whatever they are, set a clear demarcation between work and leisure hours, and be strict: your colleagues need to know when you are not available. Just because you work from home, it does not mean you should be expected to work all hours.

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Stop working

On which note: actively end the working day. Set a time when you finish and start to wind down as that approaches by tying up any loose ends or meeting relevant deadlines – just as you would in the office. Establish with colleagues when your next working day is starting, log off, shut down your computer – and walk away.

Remember, count your achievements – not the minutes.

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Get the people you live with on board

Ensure partners, flatmates, children and anyone else you share your living space with know you are working. Where you’re working is irrelevant: they wouldn’t ask you to pop to the Post Office or book a plumber in if you were at the office, and nor should they because your desk is now in the spare room.

If you have to work when other people are in the house, let them know if you can be disturbed or not. Someone popping their head round the door to say hello can be great; other times, when you’re on deadline, less so.

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Look after yourself

You need to work a little harder on your health when working from home. Guard against snacking by having a lunch break and eating a normal, healthy meal; delivery apps are not your friend. There are no biscuits in my house.

It can also mean a more sedentary lifestyle, so address that. Take regular breaks, even if it’s just to jump up and stretch your legs; even better, walk round the block. Use technology: build regular short breaks into your calendar app, allowing you to pause and collect your thoughts before moving onto the next task.

Take responsibility for your workspace: keep an eye on your posture and get your company to address any occupational health issues by asking for the right equipment. If you’re self-employed, you can claim certain items on expenses.

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Manage distractions

Only open the websites you need to have open, and beware getting lost down social media rabbit holes. Keep the television off; if you’re tempted to put it for the news, listen to the radio. If the silence gets deafening – and it can – stick to something less invasive, like Classic FM.

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Technology has enabled the surge in homeworking, so make sure it’s working for you. Good broadband is essential, but beyond that, there is much to choose from: use tools that help you manage your schedule or temporarily block (distracting) websites. Real-time messaging apps like Slack and videoconferencing services such as Zoom can help you stay in touch with your team.

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Household chores

Chores can provide a break from your desk, and give you extra leisure time when the working day is finished. Working from home brings with it many perks; the flexibility to shove a load of washing on is one of them. But be honest. Do you have time to do it, and is it essential? If the answer to either is no, you’re just procrastinating.

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Some swear by wearing full business dress at home and others seem to revel in working unwashed in PJs. I get washed and dressed, but not in formal clothes. I need my working day to kick in, and if I’m still in my nightwear then that’s not a working day. Also, no one needs the horror of a last-minute video call with bed hair participants.

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Take sick days

Sick? Then don’t work. Freelancers without sick pay can find this harder, of course. But remember, if you are unwell, you should not be working.

Ultimately, I treat working at home exactly as I would from an office. I make myself presentable, work set hours, have a lunch break, and keep non-work tasks and distractions (including biscuits) to the minimum. But I relish the perks: the flexibility and freedom to set my own hours and agenda, a gloriously short commute upstairs, and that rarest of things, a half-way decent work-life balance.

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